Wednesday mornings, we often have what we call Spanish Breakfast. We make a breakfast board, basically, with hard boiled eggs, cheese, different meats if we have them around, some fresh tomatoes or fruit. We call it Spanish Breakfast because it is modeled on the breakfast spread they served at Masia Sumidors in Sitges when we were there last. Last week, I did the thing I always do: I asked Dani if she wanted a little plate when I set the board on the breakfast nook table between our chairs.
Not surprisingly, she gave the usual answer she gives: "Nah, I don't think I need one."
I laughed and said, "Actually, I need to stop asking you that. I want us to have plates as it makes it easier to clean the table later. I want us to have plates, so I should just skip the question and put them out."
She laughed (and agreed).
Too often we don't ask for what we need--even if it is as simple as my need to have plates out. I'm the one who does the dishes 99% of the time, so I'm not sure why I felt the need for validation or for her to want a plate. I just should own my needs, no matter how small they are.
But the problem is, we often don't really know what those needs are at the time, or how to express them. Some 30 years ago, I was in a psychologically abusive relationship with both myself and with someone else. That person didn't compliment me, or even really show me any appreciation for what I brought to the relationship. And trust me, I gave it my all, putting my own happiness and sanity at risk in an effort to "make it work" (I use quotation marks here because, as you can probably guess, it would never work. It was a dysfunctional relationship).
Anyway, my sister Renee came to visit and we were going to ride up to our parents' house together for the weekend. As we were in my little Martin Street garage apartment (the one I still have dreams about--the one that often has hidden rooms full of stuff stacked to the ceiling in those dreams) getting ready to hit the road, I put on a shirt I really liked and asked her, "Does this shirt make me look fat?"
Her answer is not really the point, but I will say her answer would make me laugh now. Now that I'm not in that broken place where I need validation for silly things like how I look in a shirt I like, I wouldn't even ask that question now. I might ask a question like, "Does this shirt look OK?" Or, "Do you think this is dressy enough for where I'm going?" Or something like that--an appropriate question to ask about a shirt.
It's just a shirt, after all.
I wouldn't set a trap for my sister (or Dani, or anyone else) these days that makes my whole self-worth dependent upon the answer about a shirt.
You see, back then, what I needed was to tell her how miserable I was, how run down and how I lacked a clear sense of who I was. But I didn't tell her that, and I left her to try to figure all of that out by asking her if my shirt made me look fat. There are so many questions I could have asked her that would have actually led to a conversation that would have helped uncover what I needed, including:
Do you think X is normal in a relationship?
That one question would have gotten the ball rolling, no matter what shirt I was wearing.
Don't make people mind read. Most of us aren't any good at it. People tend to listen when you tell them what you actually need--and very rarely are they upset about it if you are honest about it. Tell the people you love what you need. Trust them enough to feel empathy for you and to help you. That you put your trust in them will far outweigh any awkwardness or disappointment they might initially feel when you reveal what you need to them. I promise.